Benedict Rogers: "We have been busy. But there is so much more to do" - Reflections on 1 year of Hong Kong Watch

On 27 November 2018, Hong Kong Watch hosted our Annual Dinner with Lord Patten as keynote speaker. During the event, Hong Kong Watch Chair Benedict Rogers shared his reflections on the last year. Please find his remarks in full below:

Benedict Rogers speaking at the Hong Kong Watch Annual Dinner at the House of Lords

Benedict Rogers speaking at the Hong Kong Watch Annual Dinner at the House of Lords

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

May I first of all thank you, Lord Alton, so much for hosting us this evening, and thank all of our Patrons for the tremendous support you give to this work.

May I also thank all our distinguished guests for coming tonight, and in particular express our appreciation to our Guest of Honour and Keynote Speaker, the last Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten of Barnes, from whom we will hear a little later.

Thirdly, I want to express enormous appreciation to my fellow trustees and our Director. I am particularly grateful to the trustees, who are all volunteers doing this in their spare time. Indeed, I had the interesting experience recently of taking annual leave from the human rights advocacy organisation for whom I work full-time in order to undertake a human rights advocacy visit to Washington, DC on behalf of Hong Kong Watch. We do it gladly, and we do it because believe we have a responsibility to the people of Hong Kong.

I should add that – without fail – I always wear this yellow tie, in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong: if I don’t have a yellow umbrella with me!

In preparation for Lord Patten, it might be helpful for you to know what Hong Kong Watch has been up to in the year since we were founded.

Broadly speaking, we have developed four key areas of work.

Firstly, Parliamentary advocacy here in this building. Hong Kong Watch was conceived in a traffic jam in Surabaya, Indonesia, when I was reflecting on the situation in Hong Kong, after hosting visits to the UK over the course of 2016-17 by Nathan Law, Joshua Wong and Anson Chan. I realised, to my surprise, how little attention the erosion of freedom, the rule of law, basic human rights and autonomy in Hong Kong was receiving in Parliament, and I knew that there was a need for an organisation to better inform Parliamentarians. Since our launch, we have worked with Members of both Houses to secure Parliamentary Questions, oral and written. We worked with Fiona Bruce MP at the start of the year to secure the first debate in the House of Commons in two years, and that was followed the next day by a short debate in the House of Lords. More recently, Fiona, with the support of Catherine West and others, tabled an Early Day Motion expressing concern over the current trials of Benny Tai and other Umbrella Movement leaders. Remarkably, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam angrily condemned this as ‘interference’ – giving it far more attention than it might otherwise have received. We will go on working with Parliamentarians in this cause.

Secondly, international advocacy. Although Britain has a particular responsibility to Hong Kong through the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong is an international city and an international concern. So we have travelled to Ottawa, Washington, DC, Berlin and to the EU institutions in Brussels and the United Nations in Geneva to advocate for Hong Kong. The outcomes? In China’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN recently, 11 countries made recommendations specifically about Hong Kong – the first time Hong Kong was mentioned in the UN UPR process. Canada in particular made a strong recommendation, even though when we went to Ottawa we were led to believe that Canada might not raise Hong Kong at all. We believe that our work alongside local civil society partners, the Hong Kong UPR Coalition, played a role in this. This Friday some of our trustees are travelling to Berlin for meetings with German officials. In the European Parliament in Brussels in September we held a seminar on Hong Kong. The United States Congressional Executive Commission on China and the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission referred to our work in their most recent reports.

Thirdly, media advocacy. We have developed extensive contacts in international media, as well as with the Hong Kong media. Lord Ashdown wrote an op-ed for the Financial Times and Sir Malcolm Rifkind had a letter published in the Financial Times. Our press releases have been reported by the Guardian, the Times, Daily Telegraph, the Economist and others, and we have developed relationships with the editorial teams at the Washington Post, the New York Times, BBC, the major wire services and others. Most of our media work has been through sustained hard work, drafting press releases and op-eds, giving interviews and comment, developing relationships. But I must admit we should also acknowledge with appreciation the role that the regime in Beijing and the Chief Executive in Hong Kong have played in helping with this. The decision to deny me entry to Hong Kong, the response of the Chief Executive to Paddy Ashdown’s report and Fiona Bruce’s Early Day Motion, the behaviour of Kong Linlin at the Conservative Party Conference, have all helped generate media interest in our work – and much more importantly, in the situation in Hong Kong.

Fourthly, research and academic links. This year we have published four major reports – on the disqualification of candidates and legislators, on academic freedom, on Lord Ashdown’s visit, and on Article 23. I believe we have developed a reputation for reliable, credible, in-depth research and reporting. We have also recently launched a new Academic Network, led by Dr Malte Kaeding and Gray Sergeant.

So in just twelve months, we have been busy. But there is so much more to do. We want to explore in more depth the relationship between Hong Kong’s freedoms and business interests, given the importance of Hong Kong as a major financial centre. We believe that it is not only morally right, not only a ‘human rights’ concern, but also in the interests of business – British business, international business, Hong Kong business, Chinese business – to see Hong Kong’s autonomy and way of life defended against ever-increasing threats. The erosion of freedom, the undermining of the rule of law, the unravelling of autonomy under ‘one country, two systems’ cannot be in the interests of business. The threat of Article 23 – which may come in the next few years, although we are glad that a debate proposed by the Liberal Party in Hong Kong in the legislature was withdrawn recently after the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s report – will undermine transparency and freedom of information required for business. The expulsion of the Financial Times’ Asia Editor surely ought to be a concern for business.

In the medium to long term, we want to expand our capacity here and around the world. We are absolutely committed to doing everything we possibly can, with the resources and capacity we have, to awaken the conscience of the world to the erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy. If the international community comes together, and if Britain steps up to its obligations under the Joint Declaration as it is now starting to show signs of doing, it is not too late to help defend ‘one country, two systems’, protect Hong Kong’s way of life and honour the promises that were made to the people of Hong Kong before the handover 21 years ago. We have a responsibility to act; it is in our own interests to act; and we in Hong Kong Watch will work to that end. We hope you will join us in this struggle, so that together we can tell the people of Hong Kong, as former Prime Minister John Major promised in 1996: “You will never have to walk alone”. Thank you.

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